By Kenneth Jukpor & Ayoola Olaitan
Alhaji Inuwa Mohammed is a chieftain at Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO). In this exclusive interview with MMS Plus newspaper, he appraises port activities from the standpoint of a truck operator. He reveals the new challenges unfolding with the ongoing road construction on Lagos port corridors and proffers solutions. Excerpts:
How do truckers access Tin Can Island Port with the ongoing road construction on the access road?
This has been a herculean task for truckers. Truck drivers have settled for diversion as a result of this challenge. However, we can take solace in the fact that the road is being reconstructed and the problem will be over very soon. The diversion has caused some sharp practices.
When a truck approaches the port entrance, it takes hours sometimes days before it can be admitted into the ports. This may be because of the insincerity of terminal operators, especially Port and Cargo Handling Company. The construction and consequent challenges has made people in charge of regulating the port access utilize the opportunity to extort the drivers at the port gate. When trucks are on queues, such people go ahead and bring out trucks from behind because they have been sorted to enter the port. This has affected the business severely. We understand that when there is road construction there must be inconveniences but this is just too much. The situation is further worsened by the extortion on the port corridor.
The problem is at the port corridor, from Auto-Wharf to Tin Can port gate which is called port area. However, from Auto wharf back to Oshodi, you would realize that the road is clear. There is a saying that a logistics chain is as strong as its weakest point. This means that despite the accessible port road, if the admittance of a truck takes days at the port terminal, the logistics chain is bad. The time gained in the free access to the port would eventually be wasted at the port corridor. Hence, we have to figure out the factors responsible for the delay at the entrance of the port terminals and address them.
With regards to the challenge at the entrance of Tin Can ports via extortion; is there a particular fee charged or extorted from truckers?
The extortion takes place before you can be admitted into the terminal. The extortion allows you to find your way to the terminal with the assistance of security operatives and others involved in the process. It is done within the corridor, because they can’t be doing such at the port gate. From the credible reports I have gathered, it is within the range of N40,000 to N50,000 depending on the negotiator.
What the situation at the Lilypond and Tin Can gate the transit park and why haven’t they addressed the situation?
We have two transit parks which are Lilypond and Tin Can transit parks. Trucks going to Apapa port must come to Lilypond and be called from there while Tin Can park serves Tin Can Island port. At Lilypond, the Apapa Port Manager, Presidential Taskforce, and truckers unions have collaborated to have modalities for truck operations. This has been going on successfully for close to two months.
To achieve this, the Port Manager called for a meeting and we agreed on the modalities of operations on how trucks will be ushered into the ports and also how to exit from Lilypond to the port. She provided a transparency policy by creating a Watsapp forum where major stakeholders and leaders of various groups are present. The group shares details about trucking activities in and out of the ports daily. Applicants and those who want to come in, every interested party can monitor the activities. On the task team, despite the ongoing road construction and other diversion, they are there regulating the activities to ensure there is smooth operation. I applaud the Port Manager and her team for that and it is a welcome development at the port.
The situation at Tin Can is different. You know that there is ongoing construction from the port corridor to the Mile 2 axis mile; that is why trucks are finding it difficult to access the port from Tin Can first gate. Although the Tin Can truck park is there, it doesn’t have the framework available at Apapa. The Tin Can truck park is well arranged for the truck drivers and many things have been put in place. I think they are even planning on putting a digital screen up to show the activities on trucks that have been admitted and those to exit.
The challenge, especially for trucks going to Ports and Cargo is that the terminals are not admitting trucks duly. Once those trucks are coming to the terminal through the front gate, the company says it can’t admit this disrupts the flow and causes gridlock. Note that the road is already a single lane because of the ongoing construction. The trucks going to Ports and Cargo can’t go in, so they will not be released and they block others that are trying to exit the port. This is where bargain happens once you can bargain, they will take you through the express to cross via the Port and Cargo gate.
Would you suggest that the Tin Can Island Port management utilizes the same strategy utilized at Lilypond truck and Apapa port?
That is my plea to the Port Manager to borrow the imitative from Apapa this will help a lot. This would really help a lot. We know that the road construction is a challenge to port access but we can limit the bottlenecks with a proper system.
NPA earlier said it was concluding plans to introduce an electronic call-up system. What is the latest development on that?
Well, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot of things and you will agree with me on that. The company given the concession at the Lilypond is yet to take over the terminal but the management of the Tin Can truck park as I said earlier, has an electronic plan. I have seen a plan for the digital screen but the road construction probably contributed to the delay. After the road construction is completed, they should be able to come out with that digital platform.
Truckers cut haulage cost by 30% during the lockdown. What is the situation with regards to the cost of trucking services today?
We did that on purpose to encourage importers to come and clear their goods. It was our contribution to sustainability of Nigeria’s economy during such a critical period. It was a good initiative proposed by Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) who called our attention to reason with them and we agreed to do it within that period just to support the nation’s economy from crashing.
We looked at the benchmark on crude oil and how it fell drastically, so we agreed to that 30% cut during the period.
Today, the prices have gone back to normal. There is also an ongoing challenge. While we cut our prices the barge operators are busy collecting huge amounts of money from truckers to ferry trucks into terminals. The charge is usually from N180,000 upwards.
Who pays the charge for the truck to be ferried?
It is the truck owner that pays this charge. That is why the price is high and it reflects on the cost of lifting the cargo. When truckers charge colossal amounts most people don’t know that some truckers factor in this cost of barging.
How would you rate the speed of the ongoing road construction at the ports?
At the beginning of the construction, the process was very slow coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic causing abandonment of the project till the lockdown was lifted. However, since the post-lockdown period, there has been more zeal and motivation for them as they want to finish up the project on time. Just after the lockdown they have been able to cover from Tin Can 2nd gate to Coconut, down to Sunrise.
How are truckers responding to the new normal, like wearing facemasks, hand wash, among others?
I have to commend the Shipper’s Council for their efforts in this regard. During the lockdown they enlightened truckers on these procedures and safety measures. The Council also initiated other strategies to make sure the economy of the country, especially the maritime sector, was not grounded.
I also recall that they were able to make available buses for movements of port workers so as to enable them access the ports. They gave palliatives to transport unions, even truckers, especially facemasks and sanitizers.
On the level of compliance by the truckers, during the lockdown period the compliance level was 100% but now it has dropped drastically. We are always advising them on safety measures because the pandemic is still out there. We are also aware that the Lagos State government passed a law with regards to that and we have warned them not to go against the law because it is for their safety.